Following the suicide of a young teen in Massachusetts who was harassed by classmates, serious charges have been made that draw attention to and raise questions about the impact of cyberbullying. It's more critical than ever that parents talk to their kids about their online and cell phone behavior. What can parents say to kids about cyberbullying?
Hurting someone with a simple clickThe recent suicide of a South Hadley, MA teen is the latest in what seems to be weekly news of another tragic victim of cyberbullying. As more and more kids discover new ways to share information, they have unfortunately found more and more ways to harm each other. Just as nasty comments in a playground can cause a lot of pain, cyberbullying can really hurt our kids.
What is cyberbullying?Whether it's creating a fake Facebook or MySpace page to impersonate a fellow student, repeatedly sending hurtful text messages and images, or posting cruel comments on the Internet, cyberbullying can have a devastating effect. Nasty comments, lies, embarrassing photos and videos, and snide polls can be spread widely through instant messaging (IM) or phone texting, and by posts on social networking sites. It can happen anytime -- at school or home --and can involve large groups of kids. The combination of the boldness created by being anonymous and the desire to be seen as "cool" can cause a kid who normally wouldn't say anything mean face-to-face to show off for other kids. And because it's happening in cyberspace, it's almost always completely undetectable by parents and teachers.
Why it mattersNothing crushes kids' self-confidence faster than humiliation. And just imagine a public humiliation sent instantly to everyone they know. Sadly, hurtful information posted on the Internet is extremely difficult to prevent or remove, and millions of people can see it. Most cyberbullying happens when adults aren't around, so parents and teachers often see only the depression or anxiety that results from being hurt or bullied. This emotional damage can last a lifetime.
Parent tips for all kids
- Give them a code of conduct. Tell them that if they wouldn't say something to someone's face, they shouldn't text it, IM it, or post it.
- Ask your kids if they know someone who has been cyberbullied. Sometimes they will open up about others' pain before admitting their own.